Alex was sitting on the edge of her bed, exactly five minutes from when she was supposedly going to leave with Steph on their grand music adventure. Exactly three hours and five minutes from when Alex contemplated her destiny in Haven Springs on the rooftop. In another timeline, she and Steph might have been on a bus going far and away from the very town Alex sought sanctuary within. But Steph had decided to stay behind with Alex, something that positively blew Alex’s mind the more she thought about it.
She had texted Steph a few moments after she sat alone on the rooftop once her choice had been made. It had gone simply…
“I’m going to stay in Haven, but please don’t let that stop you.”
Steph had quickly responded, “Don’t say that. I told you what I want. And what I want is you.”
Alex wasn’t sure what to say to that. She almost left Steph on read so she could think on it a bit more, although she couldn’t leave Steph hanging since she already wasted money on a bus ticket she eventually tore to shreds in display of her affections.
Which was still so fucking awesome to recall—it made Alex’s heart hammer.
The response was eventually, “I know. I’m just saying.”
Steph had decided to reply, “I know it’s your way of caring about me. I get that, and you’re so fucking cool for that. You’ve clearly got some jazz on your mind, so think on it for a while. I’m here if you need.” There had been a pause before Steph ended the conversation with, “I’m not going anywhere without you.”
Alex had pocketed her phone before returning back downstairs. She had kept herself somewhat busy as she got lost in her thoughts alone. She had made some instant ramen, dozed on the couch while watching something stupid, and going through a few things in Gabe’s desk… her desk.
Even after all this time, it was hard for her to imagine the furniture here as her own. Maybe she’d swap some out eventually.
Her head was still swimming with the trauma of everything. Her body ached, even with the painkillers working their magic. She had to lean on her crutch a couple of times to maneuver around the apartment when the pain nearly blinded her. She didn’t need it as often as she used to after her initial injuries, but she was glad that she kept it.
And now, she was sitting on her bed in her pajamas. She wanted to take a nap, wanted to play guitar, wanted to keep her mind off of everything that had happened just for a few damn moments of peace. But everything was blurry in the most nauseating of ways. There was too much going on her head. And if she was being honest with herself, she was fucking terrified of falling asleep.
Her warped nightmare—if she could even call a string of unconscious hallucinations formulated from intense pain a nightmare—still prodded at her psyche. When Steph had finally, finally dragged Alex to see a doctor for her injuries, it had taken Alex everything not to pass out again, her adrenaline melting away like ice in direct sunlight. She was afraid those nightmares would come back.
Since then, Alex barely slept. Even though the drugs made her drowsy, even though everyone who came to visit would end the night by telling her to get some rest, and even though there were short stints of Alex falling asleep in the middle of the night when she simply couldn’t fight it anymore, she would always wake up in a panic, crying out for Gabe, for her mother, and even for her fucking father.
This wasn’t good for her, and she knew that. And she could tell that it was worrying people… especially Steph, who had been around the most often to care for Alex the couple of weeks before dramatically ripping up her ticket. They didn’t say much to each other—Alex knew that it was because Steph was stepping around the tender wounds Alex had, mentally and physically, on top of the inability of knowing what to even say to help her. Whispers of how Steph was feeling would poke the back of her head, all of the fear cloaked with a thin sheen of a color that Alex didn’t know the meaning behind yet. It wasn’t strong enough for her to feel out.
And as Alex sat there, thinking about this, it dawned on her that Steph was probably pacing inside the record store right this second, worrying like crazy about Alex’s wellbeing. If Alex didn’t know any better, she could have sworn she could feel the anxiety all the way from the shop.
It took a great deal of shoving her doubts aside, but she reached for her phone. She hovered over the screen for only a moment before pulling up her conversation with Steph. That last promise still hung there in digital space, a cliffhanger on what the next steps were going to be.
Alex began to type. It took her a few tries. In all honesty, she felt silly for asking, but she knew that Steph wouldn’t think of her as such in the end.
“Hey, Steph… can you come over? I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
Before she hit send, she contemplated on telling her that she was afraid of falling asleep. She was sure Steph knew from the bags beneath Alex’s eyes, but she figured that she’d explain herself if Steph bothered to ask.
So, without further ado, she sent out the text. She held her breath for a fraction of a second before the three little dots appeared. Steph was texting back.
“I’m on my way.” Then she added, “With snacks.” And tacked on a heart emoji for good measure. That was enough to make Alex smile to herself.
Alex didn’t know what to do while she waited, so she sat there awkwardly, wondering what she was going to say. Wondering if Steph was going to bombard her with questions. Wondering if she had the guts to tell Steph that, at the end of the day, she didn’t want to spend her time with anyone else because she did like Steph. She was absolutely crushing on her like she was a pre-teen who was barely maneuvering her feelings. Every time Steph had dropped by with supplies and her company, Alex wished that Steph would linger just a bit longer so Alex could find her voice and tell her how much she appreciated her… how much she wished Steph would just spend the night.
Or would simply just kiss her again.
It was an odd desire to have amid all the aches and trauma, but it was the one thing that made sense. The desire to feel a fraction of that explosion of joy that had been so powerful it melted had into Alex that night they had kissed on the rooftop was itching at her like an addiction. But it was also more than that. She was chasing after her own emotions for once because it had felt so good to let Steph know how much she cared. She knew that Steph didn't want to overstep and act on her own feelings. That much Alex could read within the lines of Steph's fear, too. But damn it if Alex didn't wonder what life would have been like if they had talked about it right after the Spring Festival instead of... well, instead of everything else that had happened.
Maybe it wouldn't feel so cumbersome to bring up like it was now.
The knock on her door jolted her from her thoughts. She grimaced as her injuries flared up at the sudden movement. She got to her feet slowly before opening the door, practically seeing the purple aura permeating from the other side before it swung open. And there Steph stood with a paper bag full of junk food and sugary treats. She wished that Steph would stop being so afraid. It didn’t make it any easier for Alex, but she did think it was a bit sweet that Steph cared so deeply for her that her wellbeing—or lack there of—worried her.
“Hey,” Alex said, voice raspy against her throat. “Sorry that you missed your bus.”
The fear receded slightly—enough to take it off of Alex’s shoulders. Because Steph scoffed playfully at that and shook her head.
“Shut up. You’re worth it.”
Alex managed a sheepish grin, stepping to the side for Steph. In she walked, making herself at home. Alex could tell she was taking note of the laundry that needed to be done, of the dishes that were piling in the sink, and of the strangely immaculate status of the bed. Alex followed her deeper in, unsure of what she was going to say next.
“Do you want me to pay you back for the ticket?” Alex tried.
“Don’t you dare.” Steph turned around to face her. “It was one thing that Gabe paid for my ticket out of here before since he all but forced me to stay. This? This is my choice. I can afford to rip up a fifty dollar ticket.”
“I hardly think I’m worth a lifetime of experience traveling around the country and beyond, let alone a fifty dollar ticket.”
Steph took a brave step forward. “You’re worth it to me.” She seemed to realize that she might be coming on too strong due to the nervous nature of Alex’s text, so she backed off. “Sorry—I know it’s still a lot for me to dump on you. So… why don’t we talk about you and how you’re doing since you seem to be in the mood to talk after all this time.” Her brows pinched together. “You… are in the mood to talk, right?”
“Yeah. Mostly.” Alex shuffled her feet. “I know I haven’t really been very chatty.”
“I’m not mad about that,” Steph explained gently. She walked to the kitchen and set down the bag. She started to remove the treats from within. “I understand. I just hope I wasn’t bothering you with my presence.”
“Never.” Alex shook her head. “It was very helpful when I was recovering. So… thank you, Steph. It meant a lot to me. Really.”
“Good. I wasn’t lying when I said that I’m here for you. Glad you took that seriously enough to text me that you needed some company.”
Again, quietly, “Yeah.”
Steph let the conversation die there for now. She grabbed two generously stuffed boxes of sour candies. She walked back over to Alex, who was still hovering by the steps to the rooftop, almost as if she were afraid to trek deeper into her own place.
“Come on,” Steph said, offering her hand to Alex. “Let’s sit on the couch and talk shit someplace a little more comfortable. You good on your drugs?”
“Totally wasted,” Alex joked. “Took the needed dose an hour ago.”
Alex took Steph’s hand and let her guide her to the couch. Once they were settled, Steph opened both boxes of candy before passing one over to Alex. Alex picked through the various colors, deciding to eat her least favorite ones first. Steph smiled slightly at the sight of Alex’s pursed lips as she got lost in concentrating on her task.
Steph then lingered on the obvious exhaustion around Alex’s eyes. The heavy bags, the way her eyelids sagged just enough to let the world know they were ready to close at any second, the way her blinks were slow at first, but would rapidly increase in an attempt to keep herself awake. Steph popped a blue sour candy in her mouth as she observed Alex, thinking to herself. How could she address this…
You know what? Fuck it.
“You’re still not sleeping well, are you?” Steph asked bluntly, and Alex paused her candy search. “Is that why you called me over? What? Do you want me to, like, knock you out with my sweet uppercut?”
Alex cracked a grin. It didn’t last long—melting into a wry smile instead—but still.
“I’ll have to pass on the uppercut,” she said, pulling out an orange candy and chewing on it. “But, you’re right. Sleep eludes me.”
“It’s eluding you? Or are you eluding it?”
“Okay, are you secretly a psychic or something?”
“Not anymore. Those days are long behind me. But I don’t need my magic D20 to tell me that you’re exhausted. It’s written all over your face. You’re fighting it as we sit here, Alex.” Steph leaned forward slightly. “Tell me what’s going on.”
Alex swallowed her candy, but suddenly the rest of the box didn’t seem so appealing to her. She picked out a green candy anyway and swirled it around in her mouth, sort of wishing these were the pot gummies instead. Steph was still staring at her with a tender ferocity. She clearly wasn’t going to leave until she got some answers now that Alex was keen on holding a conversation that lasted more than two words.
“Okay,” relented Alex. “Yeah, I’ve been avoiding sleep.”
Steph raised her brows, encouraging her to go on. Alex sighed and sat back against the arm of the couch. There was no point in keeping it to herself at this point. No more secrets with Steph. Not if Alex was fully intent on properly expressing her feelings to Steph at some point, when her head was screwed correctly onto her shoulders.
“Truth is… the nightmares are killing me,” she said. She didn’t dive for another gummy. “Everything sucks, and I can’t get a good night’s sleep anymore because every time I close my eyes…” She caught herself as she nearly choked on a sob. She grimaced and bit her lip. “I mean, it’s been pretty rough since Gabe died but not like this. Maybe this is stupid, but—”
“But your body and mind went through some fucked up shit,” Steph stepped in for her. “I can’t even begin to imagine… fuck, Alex, you’re a badass for surviving that night. I don’t know how you did it, but you did it. Almost like the powers that be kept you alive so you could reveal the truth, and so you could flip off the fates and stop the chain of misfortune that’s been tailing you all your life. No offense.”
Alex shrugged. “Kinda true, so, none taken.”
“Nightmares suck,” Steph said. “I don’t know what sort of nightmares are gnawing at you, but I’m sorry that they’re so horrible that you’re struggling to sleep.” She reached across the couch and set her hand on top of Alex’s knee. “Have you at least tried to sleep, or have you just been flat out avoiding it?”
“A bit of both.” Alex paused before she finally decided to fish for a red gummy. She deserved one of her favorites now that she was letting Steph in. “I try to sleep because I know that I need it, but once I start to sleep, the nightmares will happen and wake me up, and I don’t want to go back to that.”
“I get it.” Steph swiped her thumb over Alex’s knee softly. “I totally get it.”
They sat in silence like that. Sour residue tapered Alex’s tongue, yet she went for another gummy. Steph had stopped caring about her candy. She was too busy looking at Alex, hoping to figure out something to say that would bring her comfort. All the while, she was so glad she hadn’t gotten on that bus. She was right were she needed to be… right where she wanted to be.
She had gone back and forth about leaving Haven Springs before she bought the ticket, and she almost didn’t want to go when Alex kissed her on the rooftop because holy shit was that one of the best moments of her life. And for the first time in a year, there was something worth staying for that went beyond the friends she made and, yes, would miss dearly. Steph had always been restless. She had been restless in Arcadia Bay despite the friends she had, she had been restless in Seattle despite the band and her ex, and she had been restless here despite everything that had been handed to her thanks to Gabe. But she could see just how horribly, literally restless Alex was after everything. A different type of restless, but still. This girl had come here for a fresh start, and Steph would be damned if she weren’t a part of the reprise of that attempt once Alex had the strength to leave the apartment again.
She wondered what Mikey would say if he saw her right now.
“Alex…” Steph’s voice was quiet, honeyed in such a delicate way that the sourness Alex was chewing on was suddenly overridden. “What if I spent the night so, for once, you won’t be alone to face the nightmares? Just to give you one fucking night of rest.”
“Steph, I wouldn’t want to keep you away from—”
“From what? My own bed? Trust me, Val is gonna be thrilled that she gets the bed all to herself tonight without my ass hogging it.” Steph’s eyes twinkled. “Besides, you’re my priority right now.”
Alex stared at her for a long second. Then she set aside her candy, sitting up and scooting across the couch to hug Steph tightly. Steph held her close, burying one hand in her hair and using the other to rub her back. She felt Alex’s shoulders shake, a little cry breaking through. A blanket of relief fell over Alex as she used a shoulder to cry on for the first time in a long time.
“I’m so fucking tired, Steph,” she blubbered.
“I can imagine,” Steph said. “We’ll do whatever it takes to get you some sleep. The uppercut offer is still on the table if all else fails.”
Alex hiccuped a laugh. “Good to know.”
Once Alex let it all out, Steph offered her the box of candy again. They continued to sit on the couch and snack, but this time, Alex stayed close to Steph’s side, leaning her head on her shoulder as they talked. When her candy ran out, Steph kept her hand on Alex’s leg, tapping her fingers against her pajama pants, echoing beats that played in her head.
Finally, around ten o’clock, after a movie, a bag of chips, two bars of chocolate, and two cups of chamomile tea, Alex fought back a yawn. Steph, who was nodding off herself, took notice. She nudged Alex.
“Hey. Come on—it’s time for bed. For real this time.”
Alex lifted her glasses with her knuckles and rubbed her eyes. She almost wanted to protest because her stomach was twisting with anxiety. She didn’t want to sleep. She was afraid that Steph’s company wasn’t going to work after all. But Steph was already pulling her to her feet.
They found one of Gabe’s old T-shirts and one of Alex’s sleeping shorts for Steph to wear. And pretty soon Steph was peeling back the blankets for them both. Alex was standing on one side of the bed, watching her through fuzzy vision now that her glasses were set to the side.
“Okay, Alex.” Steph flopped onto her side of the bed. “Let’s give it a shot.”
Alex crawled into bed, slipping under the covers with her. Steph wasted no time in pulling Alex in and guiding her head to rest on her shoulder. She went even further and helped Alex’s arm to lie across her stomach. Alex almost protested, but Steph was doing it so confidently that her words died in her throat.
“This is so you know that you’re not alone. I’m going to be right here. All night until morning.” Steph scratched the back of Alex’s head. “Okay?”
“Thank you, Steph.”
It took her a moment, but Alex finally allowed herself to melt into the warmth that was Steph. The heaviness around her eyes seemed to grow every passing second, but there was still that panicked part of her that did not want to drift off. Horrors awaited in her dreams, just like they did every night. But Steph had covered Alex’s arm with her own now. She was taking in deep breaths, and there was a glow about her that was gold and good. Steph was truly content in resting there with Alex—that was what Alex was able to read beyond the haze of exhaustion.
“Steph…” Alex whispered.
“Get some sleep,” Steph whispered back.
“Wait.” Alex lifted her head and peered through the dimness around them. “I just want you to know that I… I’m so glad you stayed in Haven. I heard what you said when you put your heart on your sleeve. That it made me so happy to hear that you wanted to be with me.”
The yellow glow around Steph started to grow.
“I want to be with you, too,” Alex said. “I know it’s been fucked up lately, but… it meant the world to me that you chose me. Nobody’s ever done that before. And I like you so much. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without your help. I mean that.”
It was Steph who initiated the kiss. Although this time it was clumsy and sleepy, it was still strangely perfect and beautiful at the same time. A gentle pulse of joy filled the room. Steph’s hand drifted from Alex’s hair to cup her cheek instead. Alex could have lived in that moment forever, and she found herself chasing for more when Steph pulled away. All Steph did was smile and press another kiss to Alex's lips to satiate her.
“You’re incredible, Alex,” Steph mumbled against her lips.
“It’s the company I keep,” said Alex.
Steph snickered. “Okay, smooth talker. Bed time before delirium sets in... That is, if it hasn't already.”
"Not at all. Give me another hour and then ask."
"Hopefully you'll be sound asleep by then."
Alex settled her head back onto Steph’s shoulder, snuggling a bit closer to her now. The glow stayed as a dusting on Steph’s outline, and Alex could see the dopey grin Steph was wearing.
In fact, that was the last thing she remembered seeing. Because the next thing she knew, she was waking up to birds singing outside. The morning sun was bleeding in through the blinds. She unstuck her face from her pillow as it slowly dawned on her that she was waking from a dreamless sleep. She almost cried tears of joy, but it also dawned on her that Steph was now spooning her from behind.
Part of Alex was ready to get up and greet the new day refreshed and awake… but the other part of her figured that a few more moments of sleep couldn’t hurt. She had a lot of catching up to do, after all. So, she twisted herself around so she could bury her face into Steph’s chest. In response, a sleepy Steph suppressed a yawn and hugged Alex tighter, tangling their legs together. Alex dozed off again, and Steph smiled to herself.
Victory had never felt so sweet.